Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably because of their age, race, national origin, disability, skin color, gender, or religion. Any discrimination occurring within the workplace is illegal regardless of how it occurs, meaning that this extends beyond just hiring and firing. When many of us consider employment discrimination, we think mostly about being fired unfairly. However, the facets of discrimination can be much more insidious. For example, consider the following examples of workplace discrimination:
• Denying an employee benefits or compensation
• Denying an employee the use of company facilities
• Only permitting certain employees the benefit of promotions
• Conducting lay-offs based on skin color or national origin
• Excluding certain potential employees during recruitment efforts
• Paying equally-qualified employees in the same position different compensation
• Discriminating against employees when determining retirement options, maternity leave or disability leave.
• Suggesting that only certain potential employees apply to a job advertisement based on skin color or nationality.
It’s important to remember that discrimination in any application is illegal. In fact, according to a poll conducted this year by the Center for American Progress and Elle Magazine almost 30% of women in the workforce reported experiencing some type of discrimination. The higher women are promoted up the ladder of success, the more likely they will be discriminated against. However, 45% of those women at the top are more likely to report cases of discrimination than their counterparts at the bottom of that ladder. What this trend in data points to is that discrimination in employment can be subtle and ingrained into our subconscious as a ‘natural’ part of our role as a working woman. So your male co-worker with the same work experience and seniority gets paid disability leave—you don’t complain. You figure that management has a logical explanation, and you resolve to work even harder to ‘earn’ those same benefits. The issue that was just swept under the carpet was an example of discrimination. If you have the same experience, education and seniority, there’s no reason why you both shouldn’t have the same salary and benefits. This example of discrimination can be subtle and such a common part of the day-to-day work routine that it can go unnoticed.
In the Elle Magazine article that announced these findings, the author wrote: “I confess: I’m one of those women over 35 who rolls her eyes when young women say, ‘No, I’ve never been discriminated against at work—never, ever, ever.’ The subtext I hear in the strenuous declaration is: It’s never going to happen to me. Now, they may be right; the survey shows that only 28 percent of women overall say they’ve experienced discrimination. But—and here’s where my reflexive pique comes in—the data also reveals that the higher women rise, the more sexism rears its bewhiskered head. Those at the top of the hierarchy were 45 percent more likely than those at the bottom to report discrimination, which helps explain the funereal drumbeat of stats we hear so often: Women make up just 4 percent of Forbes 500 CEOs, 18 percent of Congress, 15 percent of corporate boards, and so on. My point is not to scold you, little sisters, but to ask you to remember that gender discrimination is still not ancient history, much as we might wish it otherwise. Here’s a deal: I’ll stop rolling my eyes if you open yours a little wider.”
Vigilance is key to addressing this problem. Be observant, be aware, and don’t be afraid to speak up. If you have questions, the Human Resources department at your company is probably a good place to start, because everyone deserves to be treated fairly at their workplace.
“THE BIG POWER GRAB: OUR SURVEY ON WOMEN, WORK, AND LIFE BALANCE WILL SURPRISE YOU” elle.com Retrieved October 27, 2013. “About A Third Of Women Have Experienced Discrimination In The Workplace” thinkprogress.org Retrieved October 27, 2013.
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